Are we facing diversity fatigue?

Serendis logo

By Maud Lindley

May 1, 2017

The lack of gender diversity at the top levels of our corporate world is a complex issue which is often misunderstood.

Leadership gender imbalance is affected by a range of societal, personal and cultural factors and when we attempt to simplify the issue or its solutions, we run the risk of stereotyping stakeholders and the benefits of different approaches, which can be unhelpful at best, misleading at worst.

Over the last few years, organisations, media and consultants have been looking for the silver bullet. Different approaches have been taken and when looking back over the last decade, we remember different trends leading to waves of initiatives within our corporate world: leadership development programs for women, mentoring programs, unconscious bias training, focus on flexible work practices, sponsorship programs, the list goes on.

Unfortunately, conducted in isolation and without sustainable focus, these approaches cannot create long-lasting change. In fact, they have led to a sense of fatigue around the topic. And this is particularly problematic when it comes to addressing the number of women in leadership positions in traditionally male-dominated sectors such as banking, finance and property.

The lack of progress is reflected in the latest statistics published by the Federal Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which show that women represent only 27.4% of management personnel across the nation.

In order for the diversity conversation to be impactful, we need to start addressing the real issue: inclusion. Meaningful results will come from an understanding of what cultural change really means and requires. The value of a diverse leadership can only be harnessed through an inclusive culture that leads to the dynamic of healthy conflicts and dialogue (the very principles of high performing teams).

Enhanced business outcomes, increased bottom-line performance will only come out of an inclusive approach to diversity.  This is much harder than we think and the human brain still needs to adapt to create a systematic culture of inclusion. Rather than approaching the issue with isolated initiatives, we need to accept that there is no silver bullet.

We need to employ a range of levers to promote a deep and effective focus on cultural change:

  • Engage our current leaders to recognise the need for cultural change and understand how the dynamics of inclusive leadership leads to enhanced performance.

 

  • Understand the impact of unconscious bias and stereotypes around leadership, men and women. Large campaigns of unconscious bias training have unfortunately led to a false sense of achievement. If you are human, you have unconscious cognition. This impacts your decision-making process whether you are male or female in very similar ways. A consistent awareness, focus and dedication to developing personal mindfulness is required for leaders to truly embrace inclusion. This will take time, consistent efforts and organisational practices that identify and value exceptional leadership.

 

  • Facilitate systematic inclusive networking, mentoring and sponsorship opportunities for a diversity of talent. Senior men need to become more conscious about developing strong relationships with women at work to offer them the same informal mentoring and sponsorship opportunities that are offered to their male peers. Similarly, women need to recognise the importance of developing their networks with senior leaders within and outside their organisations.